The Benefits of Friendship

I head one of the local SCBWI critique groups in my county for Young Adult and Middle Grade authors and, friends, I must confess I feel a little guilty. Sometimes, this group seems like the L. Ryan Storms writing self-improvement hour. I get SO. MUCH. from my dear friends and our talks about what elements make a piece work or why a certain chapter maybe doesn’t work.

Is it difficult? It can be. It was definitely more difficult in the beginning when I realized I’d never shared my work in person before. (Also, I’m an introvert. Did I ever mention that? Once or twice maybe?) But as time went on, my nervousness disappeared and I began to look forward to the feedback offered to me by these kindred spirits who shared my love of stories and all things story-related.

Our group is fairly easygoing when it comes to the rules, but the general idea is:

Share your work if you have something to share. Give useful, critical feedback on others’ work (no breaking spirits allowed). And brainstorm together when it comes to what we like about a piece, who the audience is, where we think the storyline should go, or how the author can make it better.

I have been so very lucky to know such talented, thoughtful individuals who are willing to read a chapter of my work each month and tell me all the things I need to hear. The good things. The not-so-good things. Because without them, I’d be lost when it comes to catching my crutch words and phrases, my overused actions, my annoying, sarcastic main character (who is a bit of a bitch, tbh), her tendency to overreact from time to time, and the annoying boy love interest who, honestly, isn’t mad enough at the world around him when he should be.

I digress. Without my dear SCBWI group, I’d be lost. I interact with at least a few “lost” writers on Twitter every week, those who aren’t sure if their material works, who feel like they’re embarking on this crazy journey alone, who cry and threaten to never write again, who fear they’ll never be as good as, as talented as, as successful as… (insert famous author name here).

My biggest advice to them is:

Find your people.

There’s so much more to explore in the craft when you do it together. There’s so much more to learn, to unravel, to dissect and put back together when you have a posse. Find your posse. Find your people. When you do, the possibilities open wide.

But Storms, how do I find my people?

Good question. For me, the answer was partially on Twitter, where I interacted with strangers who became friends over the course of both time and multiple in-person meetups and conferences. And the answer was also to join a professional organization like SCBWI to interact with others who were writing in the same age categories. I attended a meet-up or two, met a few members, volunteered to start my own critique group because none of the times/days of the other groups worked for me, and met even more amazing writers at all stages of the game.

Some were traditionally published, some independently published, some agented, some querying, some just beginning to test the waters by admitting publicly (gasp!) that they write. And therein lies the beauty of the writing community. I’ve never met a community so open – so willing – to help others along the way.

The answer is not necessarily to join SCBWI. (Though I would argue that this move is infinitely beneficial in ways too numerous to count. If you write for children or young adults, join SCBWI. Do it.) There are dozens of other professional writing organizations out there. The key is to find what works for you and jump in, whether you think you’re ready or not.

Keep learning, keep growing, keep reaching out to writers you know and writers you don’t. Read works by published authors. Beta-read manuscripts for unpublished authors. Offer valuable feedback, and get feedback on your work. Writing is a lonely craft, but it doesn’t have to be a lonely life. Friends are everywhere. Just hit that ‘Follow’ button.*

Look at all those amazing writers (and readers)!

*Okay, for real, only follow writers you want to interact with. Don’t follow creepers. Don’t follow horrible people. Don’t follow people who look like they will DM you ‘hi pretty lady.’ Don’t follow bots. Don’t follow everyone for the sake of numbers. Find your people. Now go!

2020 Wrap Up

I shoot some stats just about every year, mostly to prove to myself that, yes, I *am* actually moving forward in this thing called a writing career.

Given the craziness of 2020 all around, *I* wouldn’t even blame me if I’d chosen to fall off the face of the earth, or hide under a blanket and never come out. But we’re stronger than that here in the Storms household. Which means, nevertheless, we persist.

And persist we did.

2020 Writing

Books published: 1
eBooks published: 1
Signing events attended: 0 – Thank you very much, COVID. (Also, get your vaccine so you can come to 2021 signings. Because they will be happening as soon as I get my vaccine and the world is in a better place all around.)
Independent Book Award Entries: 4
Manuscript words written: >90,000
YA manuscripts finished: 1
PB manuscripts finished: 1
YA manuscripts started: 1
Adult manuscripts started: 1
Manscripts queried: 3
Queries sent: 96
Query rejections: 55
Query no response: 33
Queries still open: 19
Total accumulative completed manuscripts (2011-2020): 7
Online pitch contests entered: 2
Blog posts written: 11
Number of new SCBWI critique group members discovered: 1 (We’re up to 5 in our cozy little group!)
Writing friends made: Never enough! Writers, find me on Twitter.

Happy Holidays, friends! I hope you’re all safe and healthy and happy and that 2021 brings new and great things. (Preferably all good things, no more disasters and viruses, please. 2020 brought plenty of that, thanks.)

Much love to you all, from my house to yours! xo

Santa came to our house. If you celebrate, hopefully he visited you, too!

Do It Anyway

Dear friends,

As this last day of the year fast draws to an end (and my kiddos would be the first to remind me that it’s ALSO the end of a *decade*), I want to talk about something that I’ve been thinking about for a while.

Which is weird…

…because I can’t think of the words I want to say in this blog post.

It has something to do with fear and chasing your dreams and doing the right thing, but my words are all jumbled and I’m not entirely sure I know what any of these things has to do with the others.

So let’s just start with the fear thing, eh?

Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. It occurred to me that when I feel fear, I tend to want to head straight into whatever makes me afraid, and I don’t mean things like rollercoaster drops (no, thank you) or turning and running straight at a grizzly that’s chasing me down (also VERY no, thank you). I mean the kind of persistent fear that creeps into your life and bares its fangs at every turn. The kind of fear that turns into a perpetual state of anxiety that makes you believe you can’t go out (something bad might happen), you can’t eat one more cookie (you’ve had enough, you’ll make yourself sick!), you can’t donate blood (what if you pass out?), you can’t join the gym and workout and do protein shakes like a meathead (your body will rebel – it’s not made for this – you’re a bookworm!).

(Yes, all of those thoughts *really* occurred. Welcome to my brain.)

So yeah, I did the exact opposite of what I wanted to do in each of those scenarios. Instead of running away, I joined the gym and got a trainer & nutritionist and have even been drinking protein shakes for just shy of two months now. They’re gross, by the way, (the shakes, not the trainer & nutritionist – they’re both perfectly delightful), but I’m healthier with the activity and I feel better overall than I have in a very long time.

And I’ve indulged in PLENTY of holiday junk this week. (After many weeks of being REALLY good with diet and exercise, I’m due.) I’ve gone out and done things and seen people and filled my calendar with activities week after week, day after day, even though my introvert self really wanted to hole up in my bed, read a book, and ignore the world some days. Yesterday, I donated blood. Again. For the 3rd time this year. Because it scares the crap out of me and *grits teeth* because. I. can. No fear is going to stop me, especially not my own fear.

On the matter of the chasing your dreams thing, this year has been one heck of a whirlwind. I made the decision in October 2018 to publish A Thousand Years to Wait in 2019, and publish I did. The book launched on April 30th and I could never have imagined the kind of support I would receive from friends, family, and perfect strangers. My love for all of you is so much more than you could ever know. The year was filled with events, signings, and yes – even an audiobook that literally happened in less than a month from conception to finished product. And still, each of you stood by my side and helped make my dreams a reality.

Did I think I might fail? Certainly. Was I terrified of doing so? Hell, yes. Still am.

But what’s that thing I mentioned about fear? Oh, right. Do the thing that scares you most.

Honestly, if it scares the hell out of you, you’re doing something right.

Huh. I guess that’s it. That’s what I’ve been trying to say and that’s the lesson for 2019. Onward and upward. My wish for you in 2020 is that you find what terrifies you, and you tackle it anyway.

Love and hugs, friends. I believe in you.

Dreams (via pixels.com)

12 Books—Month 6

Okay, okay, so we’re a little more than 6 months into the year. Perhaps I was being a tad ambitious about reading 12 Twitter friends’ books in a year, especially when my own book launched a few months ago and I’ve had several signings and events and I’m still trying to keep up on recommended reading from friends and coworkers (which will bring me to 12 Books—Month 7 in a few short weeks).

Without further ado, I bring to you Planetside by Michael Mammay. It’s been a long time since I’ve picked up a science fiction novel. I veer more toward fantasy. What can I say? I’m a sucker for magic and dragons, and I tend to get a little lost when it comes to hard sci fi.

Planetside

That said, there was no way to get lost in Planetside. (I mean, there is, but that’s getting lost in the very best of ways.) I’m not even sure I would classify it as hard science fiction. Does it take place in space? Yes. Are there space stations, and aliens, and hostile planet takeovers? Yes, yes, and yes. Okay, I guess it really is hard sci-fi. But that’s difficult to remember that when the entire novel is wrapped up in what’s essentially a murder-mystery. (Missing person mystery? Can it be a murder mystery if there’s no body?)

I must say one of the most surprising aspects of this book…was finding out that the protagonist wasn’t a misogynistic jerk.

What’s that, you say? Why should that be surprising? Well, I’ve read a number of mystery-thriller novels with a smart-ass male protagonist who’s on the tail-end of his career, but somehow manages to solve an incredibly difficult case no one else possibly could have cracked while snagging a beautiful woman half his age, while also admiring eight other women’s asses in the entire length of the novel. It gets old. Really old. Is it a male fantasy thing? Probably. But I like a good mystery, too, and I love a smart-ass protagonist! (Still…he doesn’t need to be checking out every woman’s breasts or rear throughout the entirety of the book!)

Guess what? Mammay not only doesn’t have a misogynist as his main character, but he also HAS MANY WOMEN CHARACTERS ALL THROUGHOUT THE BOOK AND YES I AM SHOUTING BECAUSE I AM HAPPY. Do you know how annoying it is to see 90% of the cast as male in just about any random book (especially science fiction)? Not only is the main character in Planetside happily married and looking forward to retirement, but he also happens to interact with dozens of female officers, soldiers, and hospital personnel throughout the book, all of which is done without a bat of the eyelashes. Women. Treated as equals. It’s a novel concept. (See what I did there? Novel concept.)

All in all, this book was stellar. My only hitch is in the ending because now I have to pick up Spaceside… Well-played, Mammay. Well-played.

Who’s Who? Volume IV

Twitter is a blessing and a curse in one, but following the right people makes all the difference. Here’s a list of some of my favorites to follow. Get them on your list, too!

Maria Stout (@MariaStout) – I’m a writer, so I really enjoy following other writers, especially upbeat ones who give their all, cheer on others, and never let life get them down. Maria checks all three of those boxes. When I met Maria at the Philadelphia Writer’s Workshop two years ago, we blathered on about how excited we were to be there (‘blather’ is accurate for both of us, right Maria?), and we’ve stayed connected ever since. Also, I like to keep up on the buzz. No, not the gossip. The buzz. On top of being a teacher, a writer, a mom, and a wife, she’s also a beekeeper.

 

Piper Drake (@PiperJDrake) – I started following Piper because of her role on Writing Excuses, a writing-related podcast I enjoy immensely. Piper was a guest host for a year and I really related to some of the insight she shared on the show. Plus, her romance books are full of heroes with dogs, and everyone knows the way to my heart is with dog hair and drool. Piper doles out tons of great advice when it comes to balancing a day job with writing, the roles of agents and editors, really beautiful and mouth-watering food, and of course – all things Corbin J. Drake. And who wouldn’t love to follow that?

 

Geraldine DeRuiter (@everywhereist) – Because every good Twitter account needs a healthy dose of feminism, Geraldine should top your list. She’s smart, quick, and covers a range of topics from travel and politics to television and current events. Journalism, feminism, and opinionism at its finest! (I desperately wanted to share one of her wittiest moments, but I think this one already says it all.)

 

Jennifer Lane (@Metal_and_Earth) –  Jennifer is a fellow eastern Pennsylvanian and Indie Author who recently released her second novel, Stick Figures from Rockport. (Yes, I wrote about that one just recently.) She’s fun to follow and when she posts things like this, she makes me feel so much more normal inside…

 

E.K. Thiede (@ethiedee) – A writer after my own heart, Emily is a blast to follow on Twitter. Much like the other ladies on my Very Female list today, Emily’s Twitter will give you a hearty does of feminism. (Insert cheer! We all need more of this.) There’s rarely a tweet of hers that I don’t instantly ‘heart’ and if I manage to refrain, it’s only because I don’t want her thinking I’m a creepy stalker.

 


Don’t see yourself listed here? Don’t despair. There are so many amazing people to follow on Twitter. Hang around! You might be in my next issue of Who’s Who!

Also, if you missed my last Who’s Who? and you want to discover more great people to follow, click here!

Who’s Who? Volume III

It’s time for another Who’s Who! Here’s a list of people I love to follow on Twitter, and if you’re a writer, a reader, or just enjoy ramblings by intelligent, fun people, you should follow them, too!

T.S. Bazelli (@tsbazelli) – She’s super fun, great at tweeting and quote-tweeting, and posts the best literary advice! I often find myself clicking that little heart below her posts. Plus…her food photos make me drool a little. I long for a personal chef to prepare meals for me (as I hate cooking) and when I see her images…well it makes me just a little sadder that I don’t have a chef in my house. And yet, I can’t look away.


Mads Bertasio (@MadsBertasio) – Mads prefers they/them pronouns and they are an inspiration. I was thrilled to get to spend time with Mads in NYC this past summer, and they’ve taught me so much about what it means to be true to yourself. They’re a whole lot wiser than I was at 26 for sure. Mads is incredibly open about their experience as a queer #ownvoices writer. Their honesty and willingness to share stories about their journey makes me smile every time. Plus, Mads is 99% of the reason that hedgehogs show up regularly in my TL. And who doesn’t need that?


Ralph Walker (@RW_Igloo) – Ralph is a SUPER-writer. Yes, that’s like Superman, but with words. He can do it all. Short stories, full-length novels, screenplays—you name it, he’s done it. Even better? He’s a SUPER-motivator. With his #5amwritersclub tweets, he’s up and tackling words before the sun rises every day. (Which is completely and totally, 100% opposite of my late night writing strategy, but somehow we see eye-to-eye when it comes to putting in the work!)


Angela Caldwell (@AngelaMCaldwell) – I’m not really sure there’s anything Angela can’t do. She’s a teacher, a photographer, an author, a mother, a caretaker, and I’m sure there’s about eight other titles I must be missing… She’s been a wealth of knowledge when it comes to self-publishing and she’s eager to help! And…she’s another super-optimistic writing friend who’s really good at cheerleading!


Yas (@TheWritinStylz) – I love Yas’s Twitter. She’s so much fun to follow, has an amazing personality, and I enjoyed celebrating with her online when she just attained agent representation as a writer! (Say it with me – WOOOHOOOOOO!) Yas is a tremendous and much needed voice when it comes to writing and to life and I only realized as I’m typing this that she just celebrated her 1-year anniversary last month! Congrats on the celebration of a lovely union, Yas!


Mariely Lares (@laresmar) – Aside from the fact that Mariely has a great sense of humor and frequently makes me laugh with some of her tweets, she’s also an amazing writer! Mariely is an incredibly talented Latinx writer who left me hanging (and crying) as a beta reader…because her work is SO intense and I only got to read the first 30 pages. Yes, she’s really THAT talented. I’m not exaggerating. I read the start of her story over a year ago and I’m still thinking about it. The intensity of those first few pages rivaled published authors I’ve read, and I look forward to the day that Mariely’s work is on the shelves of the bookstores. You can bet I’ll be first in line to buy one!


Don’t see yourself listed here? Don’t despair. There are so many amazing people to follow on Twitter. Hang around! You might be in my next issue of Who’s Who!

Also, if you missed my last Who’s Who? and you want to discover more great people to follow, click here!

Owning It

A large part of succeeding as a writer boils down to your willingness to put in the time. Can you accept sitting at a desk, dreaming up worlds, typing (or scribbling) the words, and getting it done? The answer to these questions has always been a resounding yes for me, but I tend to fail when it comes to putting in the face time.

I did just that this weekend. I put in the face time and met dozens of wonderful writers and agents and editors at the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC. It was fabulous. I participated in PitchSlam, in which authors are given one hour to pitch as many agents as they can in three-minute segments. (Truly, it’s any introvert’s nightmare.)

But you know what? While I was nervous going into my first pitch, it melted away quickly. Why? Because I discovered something as I delved into conversation with these agents. I found myself admitting something surprising. Out loud.

I love my book. I love the characters. I love the plot. I love the interactions and the quirks and the personalities. It was a fun book to write and I had fun writing it! And when you enjoy your story, I think it shows. You start to enjoy talking about it and telling people why it’s something they’ll want to read…which makes it a lot easier to pitch.

Proof? I pitched 6 agents and all 6 made requests for partial manuscripts (requested lengths varied). This may or may not result in progress moving forward, but that’s not the point. The point? When you love your work, it shows. 

Writers. Friends. I have one piece of advice for you. LOVE YOUR WORK. It’s yours. You wrote it because you loved it. 

Now own it.

Screen Shot 2018-08-13 at 11.22.14 AM
So many fabulous writers. Dinner on a Friday night.

Writers Level Up

Have you ever stopped to think about how your favorite author got to where they are, how they wrote and published so many books, how your most loved novels ended up on your bookshelf? Probably not. Most people don’t. At least, most people who aren’t writers don’t. But for those of us who write, contemplating the path to writing success is something we do on a regular basis.

I was a writer when I wrote my first story about magic roller skates in elementary school. I was a writer when I attempted my first magical realism romance at 20 and I was a writer when I completed my first full manuscript at 32. I’m a writer now with nearly four finished manuscripts under my belt.

But if you ask me to compare myself to Stephen King or J.K. Rowling or any other published and uber-successful author, my automatic response would be instant cackling laughter. Because the steps involved in getting from my little corner of the universe to theirs is as vast as the interior of any black hole.

I once thought the stages of being a writer were like a ladder, with the newborn writer on the bottom rung and super-success stories on the top. But having been involved in the writing community for several years, I’m much more likely to turn that ladder sideways and view it as a timeline instead. After all, we’re not working against gravity. We’re just working against time. (Except for you hard sci-fi writers…you might actually be working against gravity.)

The stages of writerhood tend to go as follows:

Writer's Timeline

Newborn Writer—Realizes affinity for writing, attempts stories, dabbles in ideas.

Fledgling Writer—Has at least one finished manuscript, probably raw and unrevised, but oh-so-beautiful.

Emergent Writer—Has begun to realize the importance of community and is eager (if terrified) to get feedback on finished or in-process works.

Working Writer—In a constant state of writing something new, editing something old, and getting feedback from a much loved tribe.

Querying Writer—A working writer who has moved into querying literary agents.

Agented Writer—A writer who has gotten agent representation, but is mired in revisions before going on submission to publishing houses.

Subbing Writer—Agented writer whose work is on submission to publishing houses, but has not yet been accepted.

Accepted Writer—Agented writer whose subbed work is accepted & who has been offered a deal with a publisher.

Counting Writer—Writer who counts the days until their publication date and hops from foot to foot, eager to relay news they can’t share until their publisher has given them the green light.

Published Author—Writer whose work has been published and theoretically read by people who don’t share their home or genetics.

Working Published Author—Published writer in a constant state of writing something new, editing something old, and getting feedback from agent and much loved tribe. Also, writer who fears they will never be able to write a second book.

Multi-Published Author—Writer who has published a handful of books, has stayed the course despite the high barriers to entry and has begun to feel as though they just might ‘do this.’ Still works a day job to pay the bills.

Professional Author—Writer who has published books that have earned enough in royalties to actually constitute a salary.

Uber-Successful Author—Writer whose books have become movies, whose characters have become household names, whose pages have been read again and again. Also, writers who may seclude themselves for protection from overwhelming fanbase.

What’s most amazing to me is the willingness of writers at every stage of the game to help those who are one or two steps behind them—Working Writers who draw out Emergent and Fledgling Writers and encourage them to join critique groups; Agented Writers who cheer on Querying Writers and who offer to help revise query letters; Published Authors who help ‘push’ a Counting Writer’s work because they know the book that’s about to come out is insane and they want their readers to know about it; Multi-Published Authors who run online writing contests that offer Querying Writers a chance to have their work seen by agents. So. Much. Love.

So much love on so many levels. And that’s what makes this community worth being a part of. In the past, I’ve compared writing to video games and this model is consistent with that idea. Expect to see me tweeting #WritersLevelUp to encourage writers of all levels to keep going. If you’re dedicated, willing to work, and passionate about what you do, there’s only one person who can keep you from leveling up, and that’s you. So get involved, get passionate, and encourage others to do the same.

(And if you’re a writer on one of the further rungs on the timeline, feel free to let me know if there’s something I’ve missed. I think I covered the basics, but as a Querying Writer, my ideas of what happens next may be skewed!)

Pitfalls and Mountain Climbing

As a writer, I find there are infinite pitfalls of self-doubt and whole periods of time where all I do is question whether or not my writing skills are worthy. Are they good enough for the books I so badly want to author? Do my words inspire others to jump into the lives of my characters and love the story so much that they want nothing more than to drown out the world around them as they race with reckless abandon to the last chapter? Is my prose moving without being ‘purple?’ And for the love of all that is holy, do I have any talent at all?!

pitfall
A different kind of Pitfall maybe, but the writing journey can feel about this treacherous.

It’s frustrating when you’ve been refining your craft for years and still have nothing tangible to show for it. I’ve been writing seriously for seven years, querying for three, and am currently drafting my fourth manuscript. I’ve gotten paid to ghostwrite blogs I’ll never get credit for. I’ve entered several online writing mentoring competitions like PitchWars and Sun vs. Snow and I’ve yet to be selected as a mentee. I’ve pitched in Twitter pitch contests like PitMad and SonOfAPitch. I’ve pitched in person to agents at the Write Angles Conference and at the Philadelphia Writing Workshop. And in the midst of it all, I have made dozens of amazing writer friends* who have been there to support and cheer me on at every step of the game. (As I do for them as well! Writers make really good cheerleaders!)

And yet all of this ‘failure’ on the professional end of things takes a toll on a writer’s ego. (Yes, I know it’s not real failure. It’s *experience.*) One might say it’s all about leveling up. Lots of XP for me!

level up

The fact remains that I couldn’t not write even if I wanted to. So it means the world to me when people around me are supportive of my decision to pursue my passion, even when the going gets rough. Support is everything. I made the decision a few weeks ago to attend the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC this year. The location alone makes it a pricey conference, but the WDC is one of the bigger conferences with tons of relevant industry info and it offers a great opportunity to participate in PitchSlam—a sort of speed dating for writers hoping to find agents who will represent them and agents looking for writers to represent.

About a week ago, I lamented to my husband about the price of the workshop, feeling guilty about spending so much on myself. (Because until I’m actually making some sort of professional progress, it still feels like a frivolous expense—the same as a pedicure might…only about ten times the cost.) He reassured me that he wanted me to go and that he was going to make sure we could afford it, even if he had to do some eBaying to make it work out.

Fast-forward a day or so and I had a repeat of the same conversation with my mother, only she didn’t offer to eBay anything off for me. No, she waited a couple of days, conferred with my father, then texted me this:

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 10.41.06 PM

How do you argue with that?

If you don’t come from an Italian-American household, let me fill you in.

You don’t. You can’t argue. It’s like trying to bulldoze a mountain.

And so I’ll take them up on their offer not because I really have a choice, but because I know it’s not about the money. It’s about having a family who supports my dream unconditionally. It’s about the support they want to provide to me in the way that they can. I’m lucky. Luckier than most.

So, I’ll go to the Writer’s Digest Conference this summer and maybe I’ll reach the summit of this mountain.

Or at least base camp.

Yeah, I could be content with base camp.

 

 

* Seriously, NEVER underestimate the power of amazing writer friends! Xoxoxo!